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Art therapeutic for Parkinson’s patients

By Staff | Jul 2, 2009

Editor’s Note: Carol Morken is the daughter of Frank and Theresa Brossart, Rugby.

The tremors stop when Carol Morken paints. Parkinson’s disease causes the right side of her body to shake. But it’s steady when she pulls a paintbrush across a canvas, or when she molds a piece of clay.

“When I want to paint and draw, my mind gets all caught up in the process,” says Morken, of West Fargo. “It’s almost hard for me to stop at times because I’m so into it and my hand’s not shaking. It’s such a peaceful feeling.”

When Morken, 48, was diagnosed with Parkinson’s in 2007, one of her biggest fears was not being able to use her hands. “It’s such a big part of who I am and what I do,” she says. Morken teaches art in the Fargo Public School District’s Creative Arts Studio.

The peaceful feeling and the fear that her hands may not always cooperate have motivated her to create even more paintings and sculptures.

“I just try to do it on a daily basis,” she says.

An exhibit Wednesday (June 17) in Fargo called “With These Hands” is showcasing the artwork of North Dakotans like Morken who have Parkinson’s disease.

Organizer Denise Morris says the goal of the exhibit is to raise awareness of the disease, and encourage people with Parkinson’s to continue their hobbies and passions.

She’s received more than 20 submissions, including paintings, pastels and knit art. The exhibit will travel across the state.

“The works are beautiful and when you look at them you wouldn’t know that the person is struggling with an illness that affects their mobility and fine motor skills,” Morris says. It looks like anyone else’s art, which is beautiful to me.”

Parkinson’s disease is a condition of the nervous system. Its symptoms include rigidity, slow body movement and tremor.

Morris says she’s read research indicating art and other creative endeavors, like dance, can help people maintain their mobility.

Heartsprings, a holistic health ministry at Fargo’s Messiah Lutheran Church, offers art, music and exercise therapy classes.

“We keep trying to find the best way to work with those with Parkinson’s to keep them active and flexible as long as we can,” says Jan Nelson, who runs the Heartsprings program. She will speak at Wednesday’s event.

Art allows people to “play,” Nelson says. She encourages people with Parkinson’s to find ways to adapt to continue their hobbies. For example, woodworkers who can’t use power tools any more can still assemble pieces someone else cuts out.

Morris was diagnosed with the disease seven years ago, just before her 41st birthday. For awhile she gave up photography because she couldn’t hold the camera steady any more.

With her family’s encouragement, she bought a digital camera with an anti-shake function. She says she’s reacquainting herself with nature photography.

Jim Coffey of Fargo has also found joy in photography despite having Parkinson’s disease. He says he’s “gone whole-hog into digital” and is submitting abstract images for the exhibit.

“It’s a nuisance kind of disease,” Coffey says about Parkinson’s. “You gradually lose the ability to do things you once did with gusto. I think you need positive reinforcement.”

Morken hopes her art in the show – two pastels of young girls and a tessellation of a zebra – motivates people to try art.

“It’s so cool that God made us to be able to use our hand even though it shakes,” Morken says. “It’s almost kind of comical. I have Parkinson’s and my hand shakes like crazy, but I can create art. It’s like he allows me to do that, to relax and express myself.”

Richards is a writer for the Fargo Forum. This story appeared in the June 16 issue of The Forum and is used with permission.

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